Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Eve Kidnapping: Gunmen Grab One of Nigeria's Top Christian Leaders

From Christian Today-

Peter Akinola, the retired Anglican archbishop of Nigeria whose influence proved instrumental in helping conservative American Anglicans attempt to separate from The Episcopal Church, was kidnapped by gunmen on Christmas Eve.

The former leader of the Anglican Communion's largest province was released hours later "after he convinced his captors he had no money to pay a ransom," reports George Conger in parsing the confusing accounts of the kidnapping offered by Nigerian newspapers.

Akinola, who once presided over the Christian Association of Nigeria and now leads a foundation that offers job training to youths, was kidnapped while driving in the capital of Ogun state in western Nigeria, and driven toward the Benin border before being released.

"I told them am [sic] a retired pastor living in the village and that I don't have money, that I live on pension, that I' am [sic] building the centre with the help of friends around the world and that I don't have money," he told Nigeria's Premium Times in an exclusive interview on Christmas Day. "I just kept praying for safety."

More here-


First Openly Gay Bishop Rt. Rev. Otis Charles of San Francisco Dies April 24, 1926 – December 26, 2013

From San Francisco-

The Rt. Rev. Otis Charles, born April 24, 1926 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, died peacefully on December 26, 2013 at San Francisco’s Coming Home Hospice following a brief illness.  Charles was with family at his bedside at the time of his death.

Charles was the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Soon after his retirement in 1993 he came out as an openly gay man, making him the first openly gay bishop of any Christian denomination in history. Soon after he and his wife divorced. He relocated to San Francisco, where he helped to found Oasis California, the LGBT Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of California. which seeks to open dialogue between LGBT communities and the congregations in which they worship.

Originally from New Jersey, he served first as a priest in Washington, Connecticut. From 1968 until 1982 he was a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission of the Episcopal Church, which developed the 1979 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. In 1971, he was elected Bishop of Utah. He was active in the peace movement, and opposed Nevada and Utah being launching sites for the MX missile. In the >House of Bishops, Charles was chair of the Prayer Book Committee and a member of the Bishops’ Committee on Racism. Charles became Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985. Charles also has significant academic achievements, including a Doctorate of Divinity, and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology.

More here-


Judge impedes Episcopalians' efforts to portray conspiracy to leave church and take assets

From South Carolina-

A circuit judge delivered a blow Monday to local Episcopalians who allege that leaders of a group that disassociated from the national Episcopal Church in 2012 did so as part of a conspiracy to leave and take church assets with them.

Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein denied a motion filed by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, which is the group in eastern South Carolina who remain part of the national church. They had sought to have leaders of the group that disassociated added as parties to a lawsuit between the two camps.

The majority of local parishes and clergy, including Bishop Mark Lawrence, disassociated from The Episcopal Church in 2012 after ongoing theological and administrative disputes. That group then filed a lawsuit against the national church to retain control of diocesan property and identifying marks.

More here-


Monday, December 30, 2013

Last call: Ministry reaping second-career baby boomers

From Chattanooga-

Ray Williams doesn't recommend singing country songs in bars as a prerequisite for ministry, but it worked for him.

"It led me to change my life," he says. "Everybody was saying you ought to be preaching."

The fact that he became an alcoholic and nearly died of alcohol poisoning was also a factor, Williams says.

Today, he is the pastor of One Accord Community Church, a now-thriving congregation in Red Bank that he planted in 2004. Williams, 50, is one a growing number of baby boomers who are making ministry a second career.

A decade-long study of enrollment by the Association of Theological Schools, released in 2009, indicated the fastest-growing group of seminarians were people older than 50. In 1995, according to the study, baby boomers made up 12 percent of seminarians, while today they are 20 percent. Similarly, nearly one-third of students enrolled in Minneapolis-area seminaries are baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

More here-


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Warped zeal against Christians

From Charleston SC-

Members of the Christian faith are increasingly under attack in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries. Though the main victims of the rising tide of sectarian violence in the region are Muslim civilians targeted by militants from the rival Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, violence against Christians is also increasing.

There is not much that can be done about this distressing trend so long as radical Islamists are free to target people of other faiths in the increasingly chaotic Mideast.

As Michael Gerson points out on our Commentary page, the persecution and murder of Christians have drawn the attention of Pope Francis and England's Prince Charles, who recently said, "It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants."

Fresh examples include three Christmas Day attacks in Iraq, including a car bomb outside a church service, that killed 37 Christians. And nine nuns were kidnapped early this month in Syria, where there are frequent reports of abductions, torture, mass killings and beheadings of Christians. Violence in Egypt against Coptic Christians peaked last August - for the time being - with the destruction of scores of churches and drive-by killings.

More here-


Rowan's rebuke

From The Economist-

ROWAN WILLIAMS (pictured) and Iain Duncan Smith have several things in common. Although they remain public figures, they are best known for the offices they used to hold: the former as head, until a year ago, of the Church of England and the global Anglican Communion, and the latter as leader, for an unhappy couple of years, of the Conservative Party. Both have a history of delivering rather unfortunate sound-bites. And both believe the Christian faith should have some bearing on public policy, the prelate for obvious reasons and Mr Duncan Smith as a practising Catholic who thinks the state should encourage marriage and families. He is now minister of work and pensions, and responsible for welfare reform.

In recent days they have clashed, and it is the politician's clumsiness which seems to be at fault. The issue is food banks—voluntary organisations where well-wishers can deposit contributions of non-perishable food, and people in dire need can receive help with no questions asked. Mr Duncan Smith has had an abrasive correspondence with one very successful food charity, the Trussell Trust which says it has provided assistance to about half a million people this year. In a leaked letter, Mr Duncan Smith rejected the Trust's claim that his welfare reforms were exacerbating poverty, refused to meet them and commented sarcastically: "Your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I am concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."

More here-


Wantagh historic black church, diocese locked in legal feud

From Long Island-

The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island is in a court battle to evict congregants of the historically black St. Matthias Ministries church and sell the property in Wantagh.

Congregants of the church contend such a sale would sacrifice a century-old piece of the Island's African-American history. They have countersued to gain title to the property, claiming ownership rights under state law, and arguing they have maintained the site for years without diocese help.

Legal experts say the case, to be heard Jan. 6 in State Supreme Court in Mineola, will likely hinge on how the court interprets the 109-year-old deed to the property. While New York State courts don't referee fights over beliefs or church organization, they can settle property disputes between mother churches and schismatic sects, experts say.

More here-


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Stay away from sexual immorality-Anglican Archbishop

From Ghana-

THE ANGLICAN Archbishop of Ghana, Most Rev Prof Daniel Yinkah Sarfo, has condemned the upsurge of immoral activities by the people during the celebration of Christmas.

He said with great worry that “it is unacceptable for all of us to engage in sinful activities such as fornication and adultery during the Christmas period.”

Most Rev Prof Yinkah Sarfo added that others also consumed alcoholic beverages in large amounts during the yuletide to get intoxicated, stressing that such acts were also intolerable.

According to him, Jesus Christ whose birth is marked on Christmas was a holy person without any blemish; therefore, those who marked the saviour’s birthday with immoral activities should stop.

He said the Holy Bible and for that matter Christianity as a religion, frowned on all forms of immoral activities so the populace should take note and behave accordingly.

More here-


Bethlehem wall is erected in Piccadilly

From Church Times-

IN THE pouring rain at six p.m. on Tuesday night, in the heart of London, workmen in hard hats, elevated eight metres above the ground, were not quite finished. Nevertheless, just the top of the tower of St James's, Piccadilly, remained visible, the rest of Sir Christopher Wren's church obscured by a thick grey wall, topped with barbed wire. Floodlights powered by a generator struggled in the wind and rain.

Despite the conditions, more than a hundred people were present to witness the unveiling of Wall, a replica of the separation barrier constructed in Bethlehem. The installation is part of a 12-day festival at the church - Bethlehem Unwrapped - designed to celebrate Bethlehem through art, music, food and debate.

Members of the public are invited to write prayers and messages of hope on the wall. Inside the church is an exhibition of art by children living in Bethlehem, entitled All They Paint is the Wall. On Tuesday night, their pictures were projected on to Wall, bearing witness to the collection's title, a quote from one of the children's teachers at Dar Al-Kalima Lutheran school.

More here-


An open Pope Francis, closed churches, splintered communities

From Cleveland-

 Pope Francis was named Time magazine's Person of the Year "as someone who has changed the tone and perception and focus of one of the world's largest institutions in an extraordinary way."

Our Sunday Visitor, the world's largest English-language Catholic publisher, congratulated him as the world's "new voice of conscience."

In Northeast Ohio, believers and non-believers said they welcomed the spirit of compassion and inclusiveness that they found in his words and actions.

More here-


COMMENTARY: Lessons learned by a young priest

From The Washington Post-

In the perfection of hindsight, I see that I was clueless when I knelt before the Episcopal bishop of Indianapolis on a snowy December night 36 years ago and claimed my prize: ordination as a priest.

I had no clue how to serve a congregation. Other than planning Sunday worship — the easiest of all clergy tasks — I was unprepared.

How to make a hospital visit; how to lead a council whose only instinct was not to spend money; how to grow a church; how to comfort the lost and to humble the found; how to hear what the world needed from us — I knew none of it.

I had worked hard in seminary. If someone wanted a seminar on church politics, or an in-depth exegesis of the Gospel of Mark, I was ready.

But people weren’t asking those questions. They were asking how to survive another 20 years on the assembly line, how to deal with personal failure, how to rebuild a marriage shattered by alcoholism, how to raise children in a dangerous world.

More here-


Friday, December 27, 2013

President Obama seizes chance to highlight common ground with Pope Francis

From Florida-

When a White House speechwriter turned in a draft of a major speech on economic policy this month, President Barack Obama sent it back with an unusual instruction: Add a reference to the pope.

The final version of the speech quoted directly from Pope Francis' recent letter to the faithful: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless per

son dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?" he said.

The citation marked a notable development in Obama's complex and sometimes confrontational relationship with the Roman Catholic Church: After several years of high-profile clashes with U.S. bishops, Obama is seizing the chance to highlight common ground with the bishop of Rome.

Quoting the pope isn't likely to yield direct electoral dividends for Obama's party -- the once-vaunted "Catholic vote" largely disappeared long ago. But in a string of effusive praise, the president has made clear he sees the pope as a like-minded thinker and potentially useful ally in a crucial battle of ideas, particularly on the importance of shrinking the gulf between rich and poor, a subject Obama has pushed repeatedly but with limited success.

Read more here:


Historic parishes converge in worship service

From North Carolina-

As families and communities celebrate the birth of Christ this holiday season, two Morganton congregations are developing an exciting relationship. The groundbreaking union of two historic churches proves that, in a world where judgment and hatred are
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and the historically African-American St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church both have their own stories to tell. Both are deeply rooted in the history of Burke County, and they began sharing a priest in 2008 when each was facing financial difficulty.

never rid, love and unity still exist.

Since then, joined together by the Rev. Francis King, the two parishes become one. As a new year approaches, the two have created an unconventional but extraordinary union, worshipping and serving the community under one roof as St. Mary’s-St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

Like with any union, though, the individual histories of each component play an indelible role in the legacy of the whole.

More here-


My ordeal in the hands of kidnappers — Ex-CAN President, Peter Akinola

From Nigeria-

A former President of the Christian Association of Nigeria(CAN), Peter Akinola, who was kidnapped by gunmen on Tuesday, and freed later that day by a search party led by the Ogun state Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, has narrated his ordeal in the hands of his abductors.

Speaking exclusively to PREMIUM TIMES at his Abeokuta residence on Wednesday morning, shortly before he headed out to church for Christmas service, the retired primate of the Anglican Church said the gunmen pounced on him and his driver as he was leaving this foundation’s office along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

He said the four-men gang blocked his car, and pulled him and his driver out at gun point. One of the bandits then took over the steering wheel while another member pinned down the cleric and his driver at the back.

Two other gang members followed behind in a Toyota Primera car they brought for the operation.
“We could not even identify the road the bandits were taking us through as we were ordered to lie face down or else they would blow us up,” the former CAN leader said.

More here-


Thursday, December 26, 2013

It’s Merry Christmas, Not Happy Christmas

From First Things-

Christmas is conspicuously the only time of year when the word “merry” receives heavy use. The greeting “Merry Christmas” dates back to at least 1565, in which year the author of the Hereford Municipal Manuscript wrote “And thus I comytt you to god, who send you a mery Christmas & many.” Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, pushed it forward, as did industrialization: The first commercially sold Christmas card (also printed in 1843) contained the salutation “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Yet “Merry Christmas” did not gain universal support. The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore’s, I mean, not Nikolai Gogol’s) ends with the words, “A Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.” Queen Elizabeth II wishes British subjects a “Happy Christmas” in her annual Christmas broadcasts, and the phrase enjoys a broad general currency the U.K.

What accounts for the difference? Queen Elizabeth, a woman of serious low-church piety, is said to prefer “happy” to “merry” because she dislikes “merry’s” connotation of boisterousness, even slight intoxication. (Similarly, in Holland some of the more strictly reformed Dutch prefer Zalig Kerstfeest—“Blessed Christmas”–to Vrolijk Kerstmis—“Merry Christmas.”)

More here-


The Church of England's unglamorous, local future

From The Guardian-

The Church of England is already disestablished in all the ways that really matter. Whatever it tells itself, it has drifted to the margins of national life. Outside the upper classes and the traditional professions it's no longer an essential part of the way in which the country understands itself.

England no longer capitalises "church". This isn't a problem about belief in God, or atheism. The number of people who call themselves Anglicans has declined a great deal faster in the last 30 years than the number who say they believe in God. Detailed polling shows that the problem gets worse as you move down the age groups, so that more people under 24 believe the church is a force for bad in society than suppose it's a force for good.

This isn't a problem with legal establishment – something that isn't a live issue. It is about the role of the church in the country's imagination of itself. And I think it is significant, and worrying for the church that the two huge national ritual self-presentations – the funeral of Princess Diana and the Olympics opening ceremony – show a marked diminution in Christian and especially Anglican content. The Diana funeral was about half Anglican, and half teddy bears. The Olympic ceremony, choreographed by two Catholics, one lapsed, had nothing Anglican in it at all.

More here-


Middle East Christians being ‘massacred’: Anglican leader

From The National-

Christians in the Middle East are being “attacked and massacred” and driven into exile, the leader of the world’s Anglicans said on Wednesday in his first Christmas sermon.

Justin Welby used his first Christmas Day address as Archbishop of Canterbury to remember those suffering for their faith in the cradle of Christianity.

“Today, singing of Bethlehem, we see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer,” he told the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral in south-east England.

“We see injustice in the ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle East.

More here-


A Brooklyn Church Uncovers a Long-Hidden Celestial Scene

From Brooklyn-

At Christmas, thoughts at many churches turn to a certain star.

At Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, thoughts are of a thousand stars or more.

That’s how many long-hidden stars have been uncovered in the ceiling of the building, a 165-year-old Episcopal church at Hicks Street and Grace Court, under a $5 million renovation that includes a new copper roof, new insulation, new lighting, new wiring and a much-needed cleaning of many of the 3,200 organ pipes.

What had looked until a few months ago like a dull ceiling of plain wood planks turned out to be a dazzling celestial extravaganza of eight-pointed stars in gold, yellow and red — so lacy they might be taken for snowflakes — set in an expansive vault of royal blue.

More here-


Bombs targeting Christians kill dozens in Baghdad

From The Guardian-

Iraq's Christians celebrated Christmas behind blast walls and barbed wire as at least 37 people were killed in bomb attacks in Christian areas, some by a car bomb near a church after a service.

Earlier, two bombs ripped through a nearby outdoor market simultaneously in the Christian section of Athorien, killing 11 people and wounding 21, an officer said.

The Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic church, Louis Sako, said the parked car bomb had exploded after a Christmas mass in the capital's southern Dora neighbourhood, killing at least 26 people and wounding 38. He said none of the worshippers had been hurt, and he did not believe the church was the target.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq's dwindling Christian community, which is estimated to number about 400,000 to 600,000 people, has often been targeted by al-Qaida and other insurgents who see the Christians as heretics.

Other targets include civilians in restaurants, cafes or crowded public areas, as well as Shias and members of the security forces, attacked in an attempt to undermine confidence in the Shia-led government and stir up Iraq's already simmering sectarian tensions.

More here-


Local spiritual leaders see endless lessons in Christmas

From Western Massachusetts-

Meanwhile, Bishop Douglas J. Fisher, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, which includes Worcester and surrounding communities, said Christmas is complicated because of the things people attach to it.

He likened the holiday to the Fisher Christmas tree, which is dressed up in a mix of religious ornaments and decorations that are of personal significance to the family.

For example, angels hang side by side with ornaments acquired from every place where the Fishers have vacationed.

"The Christmas tree has all this stuff on it that seems to have nothing to do with Christmas," said Bishop Fisher, in his message to the Episcopal flock in Central Massachusetts. "But isn't Christmas itself that way? It isn't just the story of what happened to Jesus."

He said Christmas Eve is the most emotional night of the year, with Christians using the solemn vigil to present their own "stories."

He said some are joyous while others are sad. 

More here-


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

All Saints Church in Bay Head returns home in time for Christmas

From New Jersey-

The Rev. Neil Turton stood at the front of All Saints Episcopal Church in Bay Head on Sunday morning, raised his arms in the air and exclaimed, "We are home."

"We are home."

That declaration follows more than a year of reconstruction inside the cedar-shake seaside sanctuary that nearly washed away during Hurricane Sandy.

"When Sandy came in, it took us all really by surprise. We did not expect it to be what it was. And we almost lost (the church)," said Turton, the church rector. "We were very fortunate that it wasn’t a whole lot worse. But it was bad enough."

The shoreline meets the Atlantic Ocean just three blocks east of the Episcopal church that sits on Lake Avenue. Scow Ditch, which feeds into Barnegat Bay, flows directly behind the building.

More here-


South Sudanese Coalition of Episcopal Churches Call for Cessation of Violence in South Sudan

From All Africa-

As a spiritual body, South Sudan Coalition of Episcopal Churches in the United States is concerned with the level of violence taking place in Juba, Bortown, Akobo and other areas of South Sudan. As a body of Christ, South Sudan Coalition of Episcopal Churches in the United States strongly condemned senseless killing of civilians.

As a result:

A. We are urging President Kiir's government to declare:

Ceasefire and refrain from escalating the conflict

Protect all civilians across the country

Agree to dialogue as a way to resolve any political differences

B. We are urging Dr. Riek Machar and all dissatisfied parties to:

Accept ceasefire and/or initiate ceasefire

Adhere to principles of democracy that they are advocating

Protect civilians, respect their rights and properties in towns and/or areas under their control

More here-


Utah Episcopal Church welcomes gay marriage legalization

From Utah-

The Episcopal Church of Utah has welcomed the legalization of same-sex marriage in the staunchly conservative state, saying it recognizes the dignity of all Utahans.

Gay Star News reports Scott Hayashi, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, welcomed last week's ruling by US District Judge Robert J. Shelby that overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.

"I rejoice that [Shelby] has struck down Utah's Amendment 3," Hayashi said, referring to the state's 2004 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"All people should have the right to due process and equal protection enshrined in the 14th Amendment," Hayashi continued. "Gay and lesbian people are human beings with hopes, dreams and the need for love. I celebrate that now they will have access to the same fulfillment enjoyed by heterosexual people. They are people made in the image of God."

Read more:


Trinity Episcopal Rebuilding A Year After Almost Losing It All

From Alabama-

Rector Bailey Norman takes me around the church campus; while the main church building still isn't open for service they've come a long way from Christmas Day--when they almost lost the whole building.

“The engineer we brought in walked in and told us within five seconds to get out this building is in danger of collapse and we thought we were going to lose the building at that point,” says Rector Bailey Norman. 

Today repairs continue--and services have been held in this smaller fellowship hall.  The destruction has brought the congregation closer together.

“One of the things I'm very proud of is that we've been able to have more of an impact in our community, not to the extent I would like we've gotten to know our neighbors better they've been able to know us,” says Norman.  While no one would ever want a repeat of the Christmas Day tornado, this disaster has given this church a unique opportunity to grow.  The church bought land next door--they haven't decided what to do with the extra space yet--but the rector says it won't be a parking lot expansion--they want to do something to better the community and ministry.  In this year of rebuilding the rector says there are some parallels between this building's troubles and the Christmas story.  

More here-


Monday, December 23, 2013

Same-sex ceremony held at Fort Bragg's chapel

From North Carolina-

The North Carolina home of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the Green Berets is opening the base chapel to same-sex ceremonies.

Fort Bragg saw Maj. Daniel Toven and Johnathan Taylor exchanged vows on Saturday.

The pair married in Washington, D.C., in August. The Fort Bragg ceremony wasn't a wedding, which is barred by state law. But the event drawing together more than 100 people to bless the pair's marriage is believed to be the first for a same-sex couple at Fort Bragg.

Attendees at the Episcopal service included a one-star general and a command sergeant major.
Also attending were Lt. Col. Heather Mack and her wife, who initially was barred from membership in the Fort Bragg Officers' Spouses Club before the group relented earlier this year.

More here-


Bishop Shand to retire after more than 11 years leading the Diocese of Easton

From Easton-

The Rt. Rev. James J. Shand has announced that he will retire as the tenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton after more than 11 years in that position.

Shand, 67, informed the clergy of the diocese, the Diocesan Council, and the Diocesan Standing Committee, that he will resign as of July 1, 2014. He has been bishop of Easton since Jan. 25, 2003.

Normally when a bishop retires, a search is conducted for a permanent successor. But in this case, Shand is suggesting the election of a provisional bishop to serve in an interim capacity for an as-yet undetermined period of time.

“It is my belief, and the belief of the Standing Committee, that the Diocese of Easton would benefit from a period of discernment, questioning, and self-study before moving into the lengthy process of a search,” he said in a letter announcing his retirement.

More here-


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Santa's white? Christmas spirit is what counts

From Jack Kelly-

The portrayal of Santa Claus as an old white man makes her uncomfortable, wrote Aisha Harris in Slate Dec. 10. Santa should be portrayed as a penguin instead, she said.

It bothers me not at all that Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were black. But if it did, would that justify me demanding you pretend they were white?

“This is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa,” said Megyn Kelly (sadly, no relation) on her Fox News program. “And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”

Read more:


Catholics call it the 'Pope Francis effect'

From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-

In an intimate ceremony at SS. Simon and Jude Church in Scott on a recent weekday afternoon, Christopher Fox bowed his head as the Rev. Jay Donahue dipped a seashell into a font of holy water and poured it on him three times, baptizing him in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Mr. Fox then donned a floor-length alb, or white robe, a symbol of his baptism, and was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church.

His confirmation name: Francis.

It was mainly a tribute to his late father's name, but it was also a salute to the new pope, who has fired the imagination of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike with a bracing series of humble actions, blunt criticisms of church bureaucrats and conciliatory gestures to the marginalized.

Mr. Fox said he was already in the process of joining the church when Francis became pope, but "with the pope coming along, it just added that spark to it all."

Read more:


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Anglican priests to play Vatican team at cricket

From The BBC-

The head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has accepted a challenge from the Vatican to play their first ever cricket match.

Priests from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church are planning to compete - appropriately enough - at Lord's in London next September.

The Vatican cricket club, founded in October, includes priests from Australia, India and Pakistan.

It has also been suggested the umpires might be Muslim or Jewish.

But the feeling is that their faith will not matter - as long as they are fair, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome reports. He adds that anything else just wouldn't be cricket.

Accepting the challenge, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he was looking "forward to the possibility that this match may actually raise money for charity", according to Reuters.

More here-


Ugandans don’t understand homosexuality, says former Anglican bishop

From The Washington Post-

A Ugandan cleric who ministers to homosexuals has criticized the passage of a controversial law that imposes life imprisonment for homosexual acts.

Christopher Ssenyonjo, the former Anglican Bishop of West Buganda, said gay men have done nothing wrong and should not be punished.

He spoke in a telephone interview Friday (Dec. 20), hours after legislators passed the law known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009.

Lawmakers rejected an alternative proposal for a 14-year-sentence for those convicted of homosexual acts.

“People here don’t understand what homosexuality is,” Ssenyonjo said. “If they did, I don’t think they would have allowed this law.”

Ssenyonjo was defrocked 2002 for his ministry to gay men.

More here-


Are Women Priests a Possibility?

From Aleteia -

This week, Pope Francis has scratched his head over the rumor that he would create women cardinals. “Where did such an idea come from?” he mused. It comes from those who, while realizing that women cannot be ordained priests, would like to see women as deacons, and since cardinals are not technically required to be priests, some activists are suggesting that there could be female cardinals. The whole thing is tied in with the debate over women’s ordination, and the Anglican Church has been the frontrunner among historic churches to promote women’s ordination.

In the 1980s, the members of the Church of England were debating the possibility of women priests. Their sister, the Episcopal Church of the USA, had already made the choice as early as 1974, and various other national churches within the Anglican Communion had followed the American initiative.

More here-


Bay church provides Christmas gifts for inmates' children

From Mississippi-

Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis helped to make Christmas a little merrier for the children of some inmates housed at the Hancock County Jail.

The annual holiday church program brought Santa, gifts and Christmas refreshments to the jail for the children of inmates. It was a chance to bring families together that haven't seen one another in months.

An mp3 player a football and sports gloves all gifts from Santa that came as a surprise to Jamal and Jordan Ragsdale. But the biggest gift of all was getting to see their mom for the first time in a year.

Jamal Ragsdale said, "It's been hard."

His older brother Jordan said, "I really try not to think about it, I try to stay on the positive side."

Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis knows Christmas can be a tough time of the year for the families with a loved one behind bars. That's why it has put this program on for nearly 30 years.

More here-


Methodist Church defrocks minister who officiated at gay wedding in Hull

From Boston-

United Methodist Church officials defrocked Thursday the pastor who was convicted in a church trial last month for performing the marriage ceremony of his gay son in Hull six years ago.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor of a church in Lebanon, Pa., was stripped of his credentials after meeting with the Board of Ordained Ministry for the church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Conference.

In its decision last month, the jury convicted Schaefer of violating church rules prohibiting gay marriage and suspended him for 30 days, saying he should take that time to decide whether, in the future, he could uphold the church’s rules in their entirety.

Schaefer decided he could not, because he feels church laws are contradictory — on the one hand promising inclusivity and equal ministry to all and on the other discriminating against gay people — and because he felt called by God to advocate for gay people.

More here-


Pope warns against mediocrity, gossip in Vatican

From USA Today-

Pope Francis warned Vatican administrators Saturday that their work can take a downward spiral into mediocrity, gossip and bureaucratic squabbling if they forget that theirs is a professional vocation of service to the church.

Francis made the comments in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that forms the central government of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. The speech was eagerly anticipated given that Francis was elected in March on a mandate to overhaul the antiquated and oftentimes dysfunctional Vatican administration.

Already, heads have started to roll: Just last week, Francis reshuffled the advisory body of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, the office that vets all the world's bishop nominations. He removed the arch-conservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, and also nixed the head of Italy's bishops' conference and another hardline Italian, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, earlier axed as head of the Vatican office responsible for priests.

More here-


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Anglican and Catholic Churches have finally realised they must change to survive. But is it too late?

From Independent UK-

Have the Christian churches got it at last? Have they understood that it will soon be too late to halt the slow yet relentless decline they have experienced in this country, and on the continent of Europe, for many years? Yes, they are, finally, beginning to face up to reality. For example, the new Pope, Francis, has just published a truly remarkable document, “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel”, in which he asks the Catholic Church to embark upon a fresh chapter of evangelization, and where he describes in great detail how this should be done. And more quietly, but no less insistently, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is engaged in the same task.

Just a word, first, about where one should direct one’s gaze. It is natural to bracket the Pope and the Archbishop together, but so great are the structural differences between the two Churches that this can mislead. In the Roman Catholic Church, everything flows down from the top, whereas in the Church of England authority is widely dispersed. So Popes issue lengthy documents, often of a high quality, in this case an “apostolic exhortation”, and set a new direction. Whereas in the Church of England, archbishops, bishops and the clergy just get on with things. 

To see what this means in practice, listen to Bishop Stephen Cottrell addressing the Chelmsford Diocesan synod last month. His speech, “Evangelizing Effectively: the next steps”, cannot match the breadth, nor the wonderful biblical language of Pope Francis’s exhortation, but it is directed at the same purpose in a very effective and practical manner.

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Welby: Church cannot intervene

From The Church Times-

THE Church in the West cannot intervene in conflicts in places such as Syria and Egypt - unless it is invited to do so, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

"We would be delighted to play a reconciliation role if there is one we can play. If someone in a viable position on both sides says, 'Come and help,' we'll be on the next flight."

But he ruled out any peace mission under present circumstances. "Nothing can be done until people are willing to let something happen. If people want to fight, they fight. When both sides think they can win, they will go on fighting."

Archbishop Welby was interviewed last Friday by Gerald Butt, Church Times Middle East correspondent, who reported to the Archbishop the desire of Christians in the Middle East for more help from the Western Church. The Archbishop acknowledged the plight of Christian communities in the region. Those in Syria were, he acknowledged, "unbelievably threatened at the moment, by both sides, and in great danger".

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Clergy Concerns Grow As South Sudan Violence Continues

From Sudan-

Clergy from South Sudan and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion have spoken out about the growing violence in the world's newest nation.

Primate of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (ECSSS), Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak joined others from various denominations of the churches in South Sudan, and native members from the Dinka and Nuer communities in expressing sadness and concern about the situation there.

The letter, signed by clergy from the country including nine from the ECSSS, stated that they condemned the violence, but that they also "condemn and correct the media statements and reports that refer to the violence as conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes. Whatever has happened should not be referred to as ethnic conflict and not between the Dinka and Nuer communities. These are political differences among the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party, political leaders of the Republic of South Sudan."

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Hingham pastor pens book on navigating the holidays

From Massachusetts-

You can dream of a white Christmas, but you might need the Rev. Tim Schenck to make it a right Christmas.

Schenck’s new book – Dog in the Manger: Finding God in Christmas Chaos – shows how short essays can go a long way toward getting you through the holiday haze.

 “For me, the whole point of the book is to help people navigate the craziness of the holiday season and being able to remember those spiritual anchors in the midst of that craziness,” said Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham.

“People are busy. They’re frenzied. They’re overwhelmed. So I’m just trying to bring people back to what’s important but also with a healthy dose of humor.”

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Hundreds feel power of sharing at homeless dinner

From North Carolina-

Pope Francis recently lamented that the stock market’s loss of a couple of points at the end of the trading day gathered more attention than the human fate of a homeless person.

At least on Thursday night in High Point, that wasn’t the case.

Between 400 and 500 men and women who have experienced the plight of being homeless were served hot meals and cold beverages by hundreds of volunteers from across the community who gladly gave up one of their evenings to help the less fortunate. The Community Homeless Dinner took place for the first time at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in its Community Life Center north of downtown.

The center was lined with festively decorated, long tables as volunteers crisscrossed the floor serving food and drinks to the guests for the evening.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

WHO AM I TO JUDGE? A radical Pope’s first year.

From The New Yorker-

On most Wednesdays, the Pope gives a general audience, and this one was packed. It was a balmy October morning, and more than a hundred thousand pilgrims, tourists, and Romans had funnelled into St. Peter’s Square. It was the first of three large gatherings Pope Francis presided over that week for a celebration of the family during the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith.”

Wooden railings imposed order in the square. I was about thirty yards from the Pope. In front of me were a pair of Vatican ushers in white tie and tails, several clergy, a short man in a yarmulke, and a handsome couple holding hands. Beyond them, Francis, seventy-six years old, in his stark-white cassock and skullcap, seemed energized by the festive crowd. A large man with a ready smile, he read from a brief text in Italian, but with fervor. “What kind of love do we bring to others? . . . Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another?” The throng was silent, listening carefully. After Francis spoke, others summarized the remarks in various languages. Then a line of prelates approached his chair.

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When Christmas was banned in 17th-century England

From California-

Shall Christmas be banned this year? Hardly will these words hit print before some readers will begin to roll their eyes and blame such a suggestion on another lawsuit by the ACLU, blame their liberal friends for being afraid to offend another religious group or bemoan the general secularization of our society. But the ban on Christmas first began more than 300 years ago, and it was Christians who wanted to see it thrown off the calendar. Welcome to England in the 17th century!

For a great many centuries Christmas had been a religious festival in England, and it was a national holiday. At the time of the Anglican Reformation, the reformers placed the venerable holy day in the reformed liturgy as one of the holy days in the Book of Common Prayer. But many of the Protestants in England were still suspicious of Christmas, and many of these were none too pleased at what they viewed as an incomplete reformation of the church by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. But under the heavy fist of the House of Tudor, Christmas and a great deal of other medieval traditions remained in the church.

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Prince Charles 'deeply troubled' by plight of Christians in Middle East

From Catholic News Service-

In a Dec. 17 address at London's Clarence House, the Prince of Wales said the Mideast's Christians were being persecuted by "Islamist fundamentalist militants," and he called upon the followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam to unite to end the suffering.

"I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by the Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East," said Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

"It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants," the prince said.

"Christianity was literally born in the Middle East," he said, "and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ."

The prince said the festive season was an opportunity for Christians, Muslims and Jews to stress what bound them together and to redouble their combined efforts to "express outrage at all that tears us asunder."

"Surely there is no better time to do so than at Christmas," Prince Charles said, "to remind all of us that the emphasis of the love of neighbor" and the Golden Rule "are the ultimate foundations of truth, justice, compassion and human rights."

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Excommunicated Bishop Kunonga grabs Anglican parish

From Zimbabwe-

Excommunicated Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga has reportedly grabbed back the Anglican Church of St Luke in Bvumbura parish in Chikomba District

Last week Kunonga's loyalists forced out parishioners with the help of local traditional leaders, ZANU PF politicians and government officials.

A Wednesday Daily News report quoted Revd Muyengwa Murombedzi, the priest in charge at the parish, saying worshippers were threatened with arrest if they ever returned to the property.

Murombedzi said Chief Chivese and headman Razaro Gombiro Mudavanhu ordered congregants to make way for Kunonga's loyalists, led by the Revd Tirivanhu Gomo.

Kunonga was expelled from the Anglican Church of the Province of Central Africa in 2008 and went on to form the Anglican Church of the Province of Zimbabwe.He then seized over 90 properties belonging to the Anglican Church.

However, Kunonga lost control of the St Luke's parish to the main Anglican Church in 2012 following a Supreme Court ruling ending his six-year battle with his successor Bishop Chad Gandiya.

More here-


Church Gives Away Christmas Trees to Families in Need

From Nebraska (with video)

Some families will not have a Christmas tree this holiday, but a local church is working to change that for some people, and it turns out the need for help is greater than we might think.

Giving back to families in need through Christmas trees is an idea that started a year ago with twelve trees.

"It's just been a great idea and so we want to do it every year," said Shari Shore with the Episcopal Church of Our Savior.

This is how it works: Members of the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in North Platte donate trees, ornaments, and lights.

Volunteers decorate them and then families sign up for the one they want.

A drawing determines who gets what.

"And they want us to come in and see where they are going, to set it up. It's just an absolute fun time," said Shore.

Shore brought the idea up after hearing about so many families in need of a simple Christmas tree.

"So many young moms coming in and saying we're getting all of these wonderful gifts and I'm kind of sad that we don't have a tree," said Shore.

More here-


It's final service at St. James in Aston

From Philadelphia-

Church has been perched atop one of Aston’s landmark green ridges, but it harbors more than 200 years of history. When the parish was established in 1807 in Philadelphia, its rector was William White, the first presiding Episcopalian bishop in the United States.

His chair and a baptismal font from the original church at 7th and Commerce streets, still stand in the red brick church off Concord Road near the intersection of Dutton’s Mill Road.

Parishioners will be able to view them one last time in that location today at 9:30 a.m. when the final service for St. James as an independent parish is celebrated by Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania Bishop Provisional the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel III. After a brief service, they will process in a motorcade 1.5 miles up the road for Mass at Calvary Episcopal Church in the Rockdale section of Aston, the parish with which they’re merging. The St. James congregation will begin services at the 177-year-old church on Mount Road starting 9 a.m. Dec. 22.

More here-


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Let's Ban Weddings and, While We're at It, Baby Showers Too

From Huffington-

In the past week, a snapshot has gone viral of three girls on a couch showing off their engagement rings while a fourth girl holds her fingers like a gun to her head. I feel her pain.

My second year of law school at Berkeley, when I was broke beyond compare, I was in three weddings -- one in Indiana, one in Chicago and one in Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii. I have completely lost touch with two of those brides, and am merely Facebook friends with the third, and for the record, none of them are still married. In fact, of the seven weddings in which I've stood up beside the bride, only two of the marriages have lasted.

Hey, can I have back the thousands of dollars I spent being in your weddings? Because the wedding really is the problem, or more precisely, the desire for a wedding.

If you search Wikipedia for "Wedding Television Shows," you get 32 results. Thirty-two television shows about weddings! About dresses and cakes and venues and bridezillas, venerating the practice of spending more than the cost of a year's education or a house downpayment on a party.

More here-


Baskets of Prayer in Milwaukee

From The Living Church-

The people of St. Luke’s Church in Milwaukee have a way of knowing what their neighbors need — even those they’ve never met.

What’s their secret? They ask. And they hear responses — “Pray for my uncle with cancer” or “Pray for my friend who needs a job” — even from those who never step inside the church.

Since 2010, St. Luke’s has been collecting prayers in an outdoor prayer basket that sits in a wooden box atop a post. Passersby open the box, fill out a prayer request slip, and drop it down a slot into a basket.

Prayer slips are accessible only to a parishioner or staff member with a key. Prayers are then combined with those of parishioners, and each worshiper goes home on Sunday with a prayer request to fulfill.

“This was a way that we came up with to reach out to the community, without knocking on doors or being invasive into their lives,” said Mike Bossow, who built the prayer box. “If they feel they need prayer for something, we can do that for them.”

More here-


New Zealand Anglican Church Suffers a Significant Decline; Archbishop Responds to Census Report

From New Zealand-

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand has declined by 17 per cent over the past seven years, according to 2013 Census data on Religious Affiliation released on 10 Dec 2013 by Statistics New Zealand. NZ archbishop Philip Richardson responded in the press release, saying:

The 2013 New Zealand census on religious affiliation contains few surprises. Not even the decline in Anglican affiliation should catch us unawares.

These trends liberate us from notions of self-importance and turn us back to our fundamental calling.

They also situate our Church more on the margins of our society, where we really belong.

My immediate response, then, is thankfulness to God that we are being refined, called to repentance and to a refocusing of our mission. It's an exciting and challenging time to be in Christian leadership.

More here-


They’ll be home for …Fourth Advent

From ENS-

After more than a year in exile, the members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Bay Head, New Jersey, will be home for Christmas.

In fact, the parishioners of the church that Hurricane Sandy swamped on Oct. 29, 2012, will be home for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

All Saints’ doors will open again on Dec. 21 with a “Service of Light.” The following day, the parish will celebrate its first Sunday Eucharist in the church since Sandy. Diocese of New Jersey Bishop William Stokes will re-consecrate the sanctuary and church’s memorial garden.

It will be a “very, very emotional” two days, the Rev. Neil Turton, All Saints rector, predicted.
“But, as I’ve been warning them in a number of sermons I’ve recently delivered, we are not going back in the way that we were when we left,” he told Episcopal News Service in a recent interview. “It is going to be very different. Do not expect to be what we were because of the circumstances that have changed and shaped us over these last 15 months.”

The 124-year-old church sits three blocks from the ocean and just feet from Scow Ditch, a tidal waterway. Sandy caused close to $4 million in damage to the church and rectory as it drove water toward the church from both the Atlantic and Barnegat Bay. And All Saints is surrounded by still-devastated homes along a stretch of the Jersey Shore where some blocks are still mostly deserted and where, on other stretches, builders toil to restore the communities from Sandy’s body blows.

More here-